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In this episode of In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris tackle the task of planning your marketing strategy for 2021. For good or ill, companies are beginning to set marketing strategy and marketing objectives for the year ahead. In an age of complete uncertainty, how do we build a reasonable marketing plan for the year ahead? What should we ask for budget-wise? What should the marketing planning process even look like now? Listen in for some ideas, especially around how to use your data to craft a data-driven strategic marketing plan.

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Christopher Penn 0:02
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In this week’s insights we are talking 2021 and marketing planning, even though with all current events, forecasting is, as we’ve covered previously on the show darn near impossible.
We still have to do our due diligence as companies as executives as owners, and plan for the year ahead, what to do.
We do know with moderate certainty, for example, that the World Health Organization has said, vaccination for the pandemic, we’ll be available mid 2021.
So for the next year or so we’ll still be doing more or less what we’re doing now.
So with that backdrop, and you know, whatever else the world wants to throw at us, whatever happened was murder Hornets they just vanish.
I think
Katie Robbert 1:51
I had one on my window the other night.
It was good, like, five inches long, and I was like, Oh, there it is.
Christopher Penn 1:59
There you go.
With that backdrop, how do we plan kt? How do we, how do we do our best estimates? And we’ve talked about, you know, scenario planning in the past, but for folks who are doing it right now, budgeting strategy, what’s the solution? What’s a solution? Any solution?
Katie Robbert 2:19
A solution, any solution? Well, you know, we’re going to tell you to start back at the beginning and look at the data that you have.
And so one of the things that I’m doing right now for Trust Insights is I am looking at all of our data in terms of, you know, our channels and where people are coming from, what kinds of activities they’re doing.
And while it’s not a true fair comparison, I’m looking at which channels have dropped off, you know, where people aren’t coming from anymore to our website, what they are no longer doing, you know, with that big grain of salt, knowing that Things have changed for people, you know, their budgets have been caught jobs have been turned over all of those things.
But for me, I’m interested in, you know, just sort of like the broad strokes.
So if we at this time of year last year, we’re getting 10,000 visitors to our website, and then this year, we’re getting 2000 visitors.
Well, that’s a big deal.
And so then I can start to dig into Well, what is no longer happening, given the current circumstances? You know, is our are the emails that we’re sending, still bringing people to the website is our SEO in our blog post those kinds of things.
And so that’s where I can start to put together even a back of the envelope plan to say alright, we know that email is still bringing someone to the website.
So what can we do with our email campaigns to make sure that they are not just spammy, but they’re valuable that they’re giving people useful info meishan that will want that will make them want to come back to our website.
One of the things that we started to do last week was our own in depth SEO audit, because SEO is one of those things that you have control over organic search.
And so I’m really focusing on the channels that we have the most control over.
And the channels that are the most valuable to our customers to our set of customers.
And so you might be a different kind of business and social media might be the place where people get updates about your company.
So make sure you’re doubling down on that.
And I will say with the caveat that it kind of goes against the recommendations that we usually give, to have everything in one basket we try to challenge our customers to have more diversity and more spread across the different channels.
But this is a bit of a unique situation.
Christopher Penn 4:55
You know, yeah, I think the other thing I’d add on to that is is stepping up your Testing plans.
You know, we’ve been doing a lot more testing in the last few weeks.
Just seeing what’s new, seeing how the audience has changed.
You know, we did a lot of testing in the spring, but now even starting to mess around with things that are that work tried and true.
You know, this past week, in both of our newsletters, I’ve been playing around with just the formatting of the subject line.
And in the case of the company newsletter, it didn’t make a statistically significant difference.
In the case of my personal newsletter, it made a substantial difference.
It was about a 2% difference in in read rate, which when your list is 95,000 people that is a that’s a large chunk of folks, that’s like, what 1800 people So to your point, looking at the data, but then starting to test, test, test, everything test every assumption fire up, you know, we’ve said in the past, you should have a marketing plan for testing, and you should have a marketing strategy and you should have a good idea of things that matter to test.
I’m gonna again, like you just said counteracts advice a little bit and say like, Look, if you’re not testing because you feel like you’re being held up by that, then just test something, test anything, just start.
I mean change a button color, and just see if there’s any statistically significant difference.
Because right now, we don’t know what’s working.
We know that what’s working sort of a short term, but we don’t know what’s going to work because the environment is is continually changing.
So a huge part of what we are suggesting for 2021 is keep testing, keep testing everything test every assumption you have, because it’s going to turn out that some things work and other things.
Don’t.
Katie Robbert 6:44
I wholeheartedly agree with that.
I think that we have entered such a unique scenario that there is no precedent to say, Well, last time when this happened, here’s what we did about it.
So I think testing is such an important thing to do right now.
talking to your customers talking to your, you know, networks, doing short surveys, if you run a slack group do do a quick survey, if you run a social media group do a quick survey.
What do you need? What are you working on? What are you thinking about? What are your challenges, any kind of data that you can collect, that will help you match up your solutions with their problems is only going to benefit you in the short and long term? You know, ask your current customers.
So I know you’re probably thinking about next year, what kinds of challenges are you foreseeing? Or if you don’t know, how can we stay as partners with you to help you through and navigate those challenges? I think the big thing is the flexibility and the agility that you need to have moving into 2021.
And if you’ve never thought about marketing planning in that way, it’s going to be very, very challenging for you.
It’s going to be very eye opening.
Because I know a lot of companies have a very rigid process for planning.
And once the plan is in place, you follow the plan, you don’t deviate from the plan.
And the plan either works or it doesn’t.
But even Chris, you and I are talking about, yeah, everything we’ve told you before.
Now we’re going to change it, we’re going to tell you to do something different.
And I think that’s going to be one of the keys to success moving into next year.
Is that flexibility?
Christopher Penn 8:25
Yeah, it’s you.
There’s there’s so literally so many different things happening right now that even week to week, what data you have and what information you have about your audiences changing.
Like, if you have for example, just this past week, audiences in California in Colorado, they their consumer behaviors have drastically changed because they’re literally on fire.
The same is true, like if you work in in Brazil, right? They are huge, huge chunks of the Amazon rainforest.
You know, not Jeff Bezos, Amazon, the actual Amazon They are on fire and is drastically altering how you do business.
And we’ve always had change we’ve always been dealing with, but there’s some stuff that has been somewhat consistent.
All that’s up for grabs, like last week, you and Katie, were talking about, you know, even just trend forecasting basic trend forecasting.
How do we forecast things like holiday gift guides and stuff? We know that right after Labor Day is the official start of the holiday retail season people start planning promotions.
And you know, back in our PR days, this is when people start pitching holiday gift guides.
We don’t know.
We don’t know if if that behavior is gonna change.
We do know that structural unemployment is much higher, we do know that the economy is not in great shape.
So we’re having to say like, Look, you may not even be able to rely on your forecasts.
So yes, use them.
But keep your finger on that pulse and be ready to change at a moment’s notice.
If you see something take off.
You better have a bit of budget to slap down a credit card and say okay, This is working for us, let’s double down while it’s working.
We don’t know what’s going to happen next week.
And if something’s not working, and I think this is really important to your point key, be able to pull the plug on it sooner rather than later.
If you if you have a campaign, and you’ve spent the million dollar campaign, you spent the first $50,000, and you’re not seeing any results, do not just pour the other 950,000 into it because it’s on the plan, like, stop and say, you know, what, we’re not seeing statistically significant results with a 5% sample, let’s reevaluate.
You know,
Katie Robbert 10:31
it’s interesting, as you’re describing these changes, and the inability to plan and because things are changing so quickly, it strikes me that there is a plan that an organization and agency can create.
But it’s a very different kind of plan.
And the plan really revolves around organizational behavior, and the unknown.
And so if you’ve never been an organization that has had Some sort of agility or the ability to pivot something quickly, this is the time to start to put that plan together.
What does that look like for your team? What does that look like for your resources? What does that look like for setting aside funds for things that work and things that don’t.
And so it’s less about the actual things that you’re going to do the actual tweets that you’ll send out the actual, you know, words that you going to write.
And it’s more about the infrastructure of how you will react as things are constantly changing.
And so I think there is a version of a plan that companies can start to put together.
And so you know, Chris, we do have the benefit of being so small, that we can change very quickly.
And so one of the reasons we can do that is because we have with everything we do we constantly set up, how are we measuring this? How is the data coming in? How can we look at the data we build in those processes on a everyday basis, sometimes multiple times a day.
And we’ve automated a lot of that.
And so I think that the opportunity right now for marketers, is to build those kinds of plans.
How can I set up an infrastructure of continual and constant measurement so that I can pivot? How can I put together a rough outline of an email calendar, knowing that that might change? And so I think that that is the plan that people should be putting together right now is more of the organizational behavior, and the infrastructure versus the actual things that you’ll be doing.
Christopher Penn 12:34
So where do you start with that? what’s the what’s the starting point for an organizational behavioral change plan?
Katie Robbert 12:41
You have to start with an audit, you need to look at the systems that you have and the people that you have, and you even sort of need to do that, you know, risk analysis of, you know, will the organization support us doing this sort of, you know, out of the box thinking kind of plan or is that too risky? Because You know, we are so structured within our budgets that we have to know exactly what we’re going to do.
And so this is a great time now to start to have those conversations of, we don’t know what’s going to happen.
But here’s what we plan to do responsibly with the money that you’re going to give us.
And it’s constantly testing and it’s constant iterations.
And so you need to make sure that you have the infrastructure set up.
So do an audit of your tech stack, see what systems that you’re using? Do you feel confident in the data that goes in and out of those systems? Do you have a structure that allows you to easily report on that data that people can understand? Take a look at your team, do an audit of your personnel and say, who do we have? What are the strengths? Where are the areas for improvement? Where can we deploy people so that they are as effective as possible and so it’s really doing an audit of those things first, then you can also roll in audit of here’s the marketing activities.
We’re currently doing here’s what works, here’s what doesn’t work.
So it’s really sort of doing that you’re you’re doing the similar type of planning that you would moving into any major, like half year, New Year quarter, but you’re looking at it from a different angle with the idea that you could change at a moment’s notice.
So how do you set up yourself versus us to be able to pivot quickly?
Christopher Penn 14:22
And then, on the flip side, what are the things that aren’t going to change? One of the things I think the pandemic has done a really good job of is highlighting the things that are actually essential, because when everything stops, like oh, I really missed this, this this this.
I miss going to the grocery store, or eating inside of a restaurant or whatever the thing is that that you you in particular Miss.
A lot of what I’ve seen and heard talking to people is that they miss things like having a sense of community there is, you know, especially for folks who work in physical offices, there is a definite and distinct difference.
To being virtual, there is a change in people’s work day where you and I were talking about one of our friends who was, you know, their kid is gonna be subject to five hours of zoom calls a day from now on.
Unknown Speaker 15:13
Oh, my goodness.
Christopher Penn 15:15
So the question is what is consistent? And can you market to those things.
And one of the things that we’ve been saying for just about a year now since our social networks 2020 report last year, is that private communities are really important.
If you had not already started a slack group or discord group, or even a Facebook group or something.
The opportunity for that is now and obviously, we’ve discovered over the past six months in the pandemic, those communities for some people are their literal lifelines.
So if you’re not investing in that type of community, just to give people a place to, frankly, network, you know, with the absence of in person events, that’s the closest thing you’re gonna get to like, you know, standing in the hotel chicken buffet.
That’d be when somebody’s doing it.
is seeing who’s in those communities.
And of course, shameless plug if you’re not part of the analytics for marketers slack group, you should go join over at Trust insights.ai slash analytics for marketers.
But what else hasn’t changed? What else are the things that we should be planning around that we know people will, in some fashion probably do.
Katie Robbert 16:20
I think content is a big, you know, sort of the obvious, like blinking light.
People are home people are listening to podcasts, people are watching TV, live streams, YouTube videos, you know, content is a constant.
The way in which you deliver content might be changing, but the content itself still needs to be created.
People still need to understand how your thing works, understand the case studies understand, you know, how this benefits them, give them sort of that future thinking thought leadership, so that the creating the content is the constant, the delivery of the content is what’s changing, and so Whether that’s via email, a live stream, a podcast, you’re listening to our podcast right now, which we have consistently been creating for almost two years, maybe a little bit longer.
And, you know, there’s we’re always trying to provide new and helpful and relevant information.
So there’s, I think that’s, that’s one of the other constants is the content creation.
You know how it’s done.
That’s what’s up for grabs.
Christopher Penn 17:28
Yeah, the other thing is, again, this is, you know, harkens back to earlier, take a look at your data and compare it to previous times, because you’re going to see some some major changes.
One of the big things that we’ve seen change, podcasting has taken a bit of a hit because people don’t listen to it on their commute anymore because they have a commute a lot of cases.
Or in some cases now.
We’ve seen email, like drastically changed and improve over the pandemic.
So if you’ve got channels that you kind of written off on Like, oh yeah, we send the email newsletter because we’ve always done it or whatever.
But we’re not really investing in time resources, go and check your data, go and make sure that it is still not working because it may have started working while you’re paying attention to it.
And it’s really, really important for reference, at the beginning of the pandemic, my almost timely newsletter was averaging about a 10% open rate, give or take.
And since the pandemic started and consistently since then it’s been up to 15%.
So it’s a, you know, a 50% increase in attention in six months, because like you said, gay people are reading stuff and things.
So check all your channels.
So to wrap up,
Unknown Speaker 18:43
planning
Christopher Penn 18:44
doesn’t have to mean just throw your hands in the air, nor does it have to mean you know, staying the course of the course is about to lead you over waterfall.
Stop the ship, look around.
Try to get a sense of where the currents of the tides are going and to the best of your ability.
With him by paying rabid attention to your data, and being willing and able organizationally to make a change when change just called for.
If you have questions about this episode or anything we’ve talked about, please hop on over to our slack group over at analytics for market assess Trust insights.ai slash analytics for marketers, and wire over on the TrustInsights.ai website.
Subscribe to this show and to our weekly newsletter, we featuring fresh data every week.
Thanks for listening.
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